The ranch workout

I’ve joked in the past about the ranch workout. This is a very real thing. It doesn’t involve lifting weights the same way for x repetitions and it doesn’t involve working two body groups one day, then two others another, and then having leg day. No, you’re going to get an all-body workout, whether you like it or not. Case in point: today.

Every day (or every other day) I wander out to the beeyard and see if any of the hives need a topping off of their feeders. Today while doing that, I decided to take a look in a couple of hives, just to make sure things were all as they should be.

They were not.

I had out two supers on hive #11, because they were going full tilt gathering, even though it’s technically fall/winter. They don’t understand this because it simply is not cold enough here for that little trigger in their minds to understand they should be hunkering down to ride out the season and get geared up for spring. Even though the last two nights have been very cold (for us), at 35F and 34F respectively, the days are warm enough that the girls can fly – for non-bee people, generally if the temperature is 50F or better, they really have no issues going about their business as usual.

What this means is they continue to collect pollen and nectar – because the plants also don’t realize it’s fall/winter and are still in bloom – and they rapidly fill their combs with both. This raises the risk of the hive producing a swarm, as there is no way for the queen to do her one duty in life: lay eggs. During their lives, the bees also tend to move upward in the hives, so at times it’s necessary to swap the top and bottom brood boxes so they are downstairs with room to grow upstairs.

Today I found that hive #11 had absconded. A lot of people don’t understand this, and jump right to the conjecture that it must be colony collapse disorder (CCD), which as anyone who has even casually watched news items knows about. The bees simply pack themselves  and fly off, for reasons that are not always readily understood. This hive, for instance, had plenty of stores, plenty of pollen, and I found some brood on a few of the frames. There was no huge infestation of pests that love beehives, like small hive beetles, and no incursion from other bees or critters that will happily rob out a hive that has become empty (yellowjackets are quite common around here for that). There is nothing environmental here that can account for their disappearance. They just left, for reasons I’ll likely never know. I also found this.

Hive 11 queen bee

That is the queen for hive #11. She was part of one of the packages of bees I picked up earlier in the year. Usually, the existing queen goes with the swarm. As this queen is clipped (one of her wings is missing) she could not leave when everyone else did. I suspect the girls made another queen  – a process called supercedure – and left with that one instead, leaving this gal behind.

Here’s the problem with that: not enough bees. The queen spends her time roaming around the frames, laying eggs and generally being attended by the other bees. It’s only natural, of course, since she is royalty. But, in a hive with a reduced population, having cooler weather is not a good thing. Luckily, we have not had any freezes, but the brood that was left in this hive is probably dead because there are not enough workers to tend them and keep the hive temperature up.

I captured a small hive late in the season, and they have been toiling away, but the queen in that swarm is either already in winter mode, or is just a poor layer. As swarms usually leave with the existing queen as noted above, that means they are traveling with an aged queen whose good laying days are over.The irony of this is that without intervention by the beekeeper, a poorly-laying queen may not lay well enough for the hive to create a new queen in a queen cup, feeding it larva royal jelly before capping off the cup and waiting for the new queen to emerge. As I hadn’t found a queen in the hive from which that swarm emerged, and given her poor laying now, I suspect her best days are over.

It may sound cruel, but this is where the management comes in. I found the queen in the captured swarm hived and dispatched her. The dispatched hive got a later of newspaper over it, and the brood box from the captured swarm went atop that. The newspaper is necessary to make sure the swarm bees don’t kill off the queen of hive #11 immediately – which they will do, since they still have the original queen’s pheromone with them. Having a couple of slits in the newspaper will allow the upper box of bees to get acclimated to the new queen’s pheromone. Eventually, they will eat their way through the newspaper and be able to move between the boxes. Most likely, the queen (and any of the bees that remained with her) will move up to the top box because their natural instinct is to move upwards. That’s fine, as I’ll just swap them top to bottom, bottom to top.

In the meantime, I had pulled a bunch of frames from the absconded hive: lots and lots of honey. Looks like we’ll have another extraction here at the end of the year, or perhaps during the new year. Either way, hive #11 had produced a lot of honey, and they didn’t remove it from the supers to take with them. Based on a look at the brood frames and their patterns, there was a good deal of honey that had been in those, and the swarm took that with them, leaving the supers undisturbed. There was also an indication of wax moth incursion to the hive, something not terribly surprising since there were not enough bees to protect against that. I cleaned up some of those by scraping off the comb they were in, but some I just laying against the hive stand itself, which invites the bees to rob out those frames and take the good stuff back to their hives. This is the hive disassembly.

Hive 11 disassembled
I pulled a bunch of the honey because the diminished number of bees in the box won’t be using it. Everything related to beekeeping is heavy past the initial setup and settling in of the bees. The frames from the supers generally weigh anywhere from six to ten pounds apiece, which equates to a full box of 50-60 pounds thanks to the weight of the woodenware itself plus all the bees on the frames. The deep boxes can weigh 80-100 pounds apiece.  All of this inspection, replacing, and shuffling of hive gear is just one more of the fabulous workouts to be had at the ranch.

I also checked a few more hives, and did a bit of rearranging, but I’d been out there for a couple of hours by that point, and my body was telling me – via the use of painful spasms – that it had had enough for the day, so how about we button up these hives and have another go at inspections tomorrow. And that’s what I did: pulled the wagon out of the beeyard, and it’s currently parked on the front porch so we can move the frames inside and either store them for now, or do a cleanup of the extractor and go ahead and do an extraction this week.

Bringing in the honey


That leaves us with twelve hives now – eleven and a half, more accurately, I think, since one is an attempt to build a new hive out of two puzzle pieces. It also leaves me with a question: do I go ahead and place an order for a few more package bees, which will ship in the spring, or do I keep biding my time until spring and then start splitting the hives I have – or do I do both? Splitting them now could be problematic if all the drones have been pushed out of the hives here and elsewhere, as that would make it likely the new queen for the split hive would not be able to mate until spring since there would theoretically be no drones to fly with this late in the season. I am 99% sure we will be able to spring splits with these hives in any case, as they are pretty darn healthy. It’s a quandary.